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In 711, the Berber landed at Gibraltar. By the end of their campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula (except for small areas in the north-west such as Asturias and the Basque) were brought under Islamic rule.  The disintegration of the Caliphate saw Islamic control of Spain gradually eroded by the Spanish Reconquista (Reconquest) by which the Catholic Kingdoms of northern Spain eventually succeeded in re-conquering the Muslim states. This led to periodic warfare in Spain for almost 700 years (see Muslim Invasion of Spain).

Moriscos (Spanish ‘Little Moors’) or Mouriscos (Portuguese) were Spanish Muslims who converted to Catholicism during the Reconquista and later was the sarcastic term for those thought to have outwardly converted while secretly continuing to practice Islam after the surrender of Granada in 1492. They followed Taqiyya, Arabic for caution,(alternate spellings taqiya, taqiyah, tuqyah), to conceal their religion while under threat, persecution, or compulsion. This gave a legality to an individual to deny his faith or commit illegal or blasphemous acts.

From Author's Note 'THE HAND OF FATIMA' Ildefonso Falcones, Black Swan 2010     

The history of the Morisco community in Spain, from the conquest of Granada by the Catholic monarchs to their final expulsion, is one of the many episodes of xenophobia in our history. Other examples include Almanzors attacks on Jews and Christians and the expulsion of the Jews by the Catholic monarchs. The conditions for the surrender of Granada established very generous terms for the Muslims. They were allowed to keep their language, religion, customs, properties and authorities; eight years later, however, Cardinal Cisneros imposed the forced conversion of the Moriscos, as well as the elimination of their culture, the establishment of new onerous taxes  and the curtailment of their administrative autonomy. The so-called ‘New Christians’ became increasingly exploited and reviled, while their previous rights were severely restricted.

The Morisco revolt in the rugged, beautiful region of the Alpujarra was a direct consequence of that peoples constantly deteriorating situation. We know about it thanks to two detailed accounts by the chroniclers Luis de Marmol Carvajal (Historia del rebelion y castigo de los Moriscos del reino de Granada) and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (Guerra de Granada hecha por el Rey de Espana Don Felipe II contra los Moriscos de aquel reino, sus rebeldes: historia escrito en cuatro libros). This was a war that both sides pursued with the utmost cruelty, although the atrocities committed by the Moriscos are better known, owing to the incomplete nature of the Christian accounts. In spite of this, one of the few voices raised to explain, though not to justify, these excesses was that of the Spanish ambassador in Paris, who wrote

It is true that the Moriscos have risen up in rebellion, but it is the old Christians who have driven them to despair by their arrogance, larcenies, and the insolence with which they seize their women. Even the priests behave in a similar manner. When an entire Morisco village complained to the archbishop about their pastor, an investigation was made into the reasons for their complaint. Take him away from here the faithful pleaded.., or if not, let him be married, because all our children are born with the same blue eyes as his.

Letter from Frances de
Alava, Spain’s ambassador in France, to Philip II, 1568

However, the Christian side also committed atrocities. Massacres (the worst example of which took place in the village of Galera), the forced enslavement of the defeated Moriscos and extensive pillaging were common. For this reason we should give credence to events such as the deaths of more than a thousand women and children in the square at Juviles, and the sale of a similar number of both groups at public auction in Granada, as related in these chronicles.

This butchery was carried out by soldiers and commanders who were not part of the regular forces, and whose sole aim seems to have been personal enrichment. The chronicles constantly give prominence to the efforts to win spoils and share them out, to ambition being the only strategy, and to desertion by men satisfied with the booty they had accumulated.

Together with this, I have also tried in my novel to present an image of the conflicts and conditions within the rebel camp until the Moriscos, abandoned to their fate by Algiers and the Turks (as they had been before and would be again), were defeated by the professional Spanish soldiers. The taking of hashish to instil courage, the use of aconite as a poison on arrow tips, the arrogant attitude of the squad of janissaries sent from Algiers, the corsairs and the inclination some of them had for young boys: all this appears in the books of the chroniclers of the time. Also, in the work Mahoma by Juan Vernet, it is noted that according to Arab legend, several of the Prophet's swords reached al-Andalus, as I describe in my novel.

The Alpujarra uprising ended with the deportation of the Moriscos of Granada to other kingdoms in Spain. In the case of those taken to Cordoba, like the protagonists of the novel, their exodus led to the death along the way of a seventh of those expelled, as seen from the study Los Moriscos en tierra de Cdrdoba by Juan Aranda Doncel.

The defeat, the dispersal of the Moriscos, the discriminatory laws (which also had the result of rendering useless any attempts at assimilation) did not resolve the problem. There are many reports and opinions from the time which not only made this clear, but proposed terrifying ‘final solutions’. As a con­sequence, there were also many plots, all of which failed. Among the most serious was the one at Toga, which is recounted in the novel and which was thwarted as a result of the documents the King of England sent to the Spanish monarch following Elizabeth I’s death and the Anglo- Spanish treaty. In his book The Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion, the historian Henry Charles Lea states that 'the 120,000 ducats the Morisco community promised to pay on that occasion to secure the support of the French King for the insurrection were in fact handed over in Fau'; while Dominguez Ortiz and Bernard Vincent, in their Historia de los Moriscos; vida y tragedia de una minoria, main­tain that this never in fact happened. However, the payment, or the offer to make it, does seem to be true. For plot purposes, I have decided the payment was made, and have fictitiously put this down to the profits made from counterfeiting money - a real economic scourge which occurred above all in the king­dom of Valencia, where in 1613 the municipal treasury was bankrupted, leading to the withdrawal of hundreds of thousands of fake ducat coins. The Moriscos were directly accused of this counterfeiting. Several Berbers were present at Toga, but the aid was not meant to come from Algiers or the Sublime Porte, but from Christians.

The sufferings that the children went through - and here I am referring to the Morisco children, innocent victims of their people’s tragedy - merit an in-depth study. There is a wealth of references for this: first and foremost, there is proof of the slavery into which children under eleven were forced during the Alpujarra uprising, despite the royal edicts. From our view­point, it is also hard to consider all those over eleven as being adult. In second place, once the war had finished, there was the handover of the children of deported Moriscos to Christian families; there are documents that confirm legal processes in favour of these children who were trying to recover their free­dom once they reached the age of majority. Third, there was a fresh enslavement of children after the rebellions in the Valencian mountains (Vail de Laguar and Muela de Cortes). Finally, there exists documentation on those children aged under six who were kept in Spain when the definitive expulsion of the Moriscos took place. There are accounts that some families managed to send these children to France (the pro­hibition was on sending them to Barbary) and that others succeeded in getting round the royal decree by setting sail for Christian countries and then changing course at sea for the African coast. In the novel, several hundred of these children are said to have been detained in Seville. In Valencia, almost a thousand of them were handed over to the Church, and the viceroy’s wife used her servants to abduct an unknown number of them and looked after them to prevent them falling into the hands of Satan, as would have happened if they had gone to ‘Moorish lands’.

Following their expulsion, the Moriscos from the village of Hornachos, an enclosed, warlike community, settled in and later took control of the corsair port of Sale, next to Rabat. In 1631 they negotiated with the King of Spain to hand over the town to him on several conditions, including that of the return of the children of whom they had been robbed. From kingdom to kingdom, village to village, there are many examples of com­munities where the youngest children were taken from the Moriscos.

As far as the exact number of Moriscos expelled from Spain is concerned, the figures quoted vary so widely it would be really unhelpful to name those authors who suggest one or other figure. Perhaps, following Dominguez and Vincent, the closest we can come is their total of approximately three hundred thousand. Moreover, most of the authors who have studied the Moriscos (Janer, Lea, Dominguez and Vincent, Caro Baroja...) speak of the killings that took place when those deported reached Barbary. Some of them affirm that almost a third of the Moriscos expelled from Valencia were killed on arrival. In this they are following Philip III's chronicler, Luis Cabrera de Cordoba, in his Relaciones de las cosas sucedidas en la corte de Espana desde 1599 hasta 1614: ‘and they (the Moriscos) are so horrified at the mistreatment and harm that the people of Valencia have received in Barbary, since a third of those who left have died, that very few of them wish to go there.’ King Philip, however, celebrated the operation and gave a gift of a hundred thousand ducats in Morisco possessions to the Duke of Lerma on the occasion of the royal adviser's wedding to the Countess of Valencia.

After the first expulsion, a series of edicts was issued that insisted on the deportation of any Moriscos who might have remained in Spain or returned there, permitting and even rewarding the murder or enslavement of anyone found. It should also be recognized that the expulsion edicts varied according to each kingdom, although basically these different orders varied only slightly. In the novel, I have used the first of these that was passed, in the kingdom of Valencia.

Among the exceptions, the city of Cordoba is particularly interesting. On 29 January 1610 the city council petitioned the King for permission to allow two old, childless harness-makers to stay in the city ‘for the general good and for the sake of the riders’. I have no evidence to suggest that apart from these two old Moriscos, who were to carry on looking after the horses, there were any other exceptions; nor do I know what His Majesty’s reply was to the request.


Disembarking of the Moriscos at Oran port (1613, Vicent Mestre), Fundación Bancaja de Valencia

The Duke of Lerma eventually convinced King Philip III with the help of the Archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, who considered the Moriscos as universally heretics and traitors. The archbishop added an idea to make the plan more persuasive to the king: the king could confiscate the assets and properties of the Moorish population, thereby providing a dramatic one-time boost to the royal coffers. Ribera also encouraged the king to enslave the Moriscos for work in galleys, mines, and abroad as he could do so "without any scruples of conscience," but this proposal was rejected.[13]

On April 9, 1609, the edict was signed to expel the Moriscos.[17] The government knew that exiling so many would be problematic. It was decided to start with Valencia, where the Morisco population was greatest. Preparations were taken in the strictest secrecy. Starting in September, tercio battalions arrived from Italy.[18] They took up positions in the main ports of Valencia: Alfaques, Dénia, and Alicante. On September 22, the viceroy ordered the publication of the decree. The Valencian aristocracy met with the government to protest the expulsion, as losing their workers would ruin their agricultural incomes. The government offered some of the confiscated property and territory of the Moriscos to them in exchange, but this didn't come close to compensating for the loss. The Moriscos would be allowed to take anything that could carry, but their homes and land would pass into the hands of their masters. Burning or other destruction of their homes before the transfer was prohibited on pain of death.[18]

Certain exceptions were granted: 6 families out of every 100 would be allowed to stay behind and maintain the infrastructure of towns that had been predominantly Morisco-inhabited. Very few took advantage of this, considering that it was thought likely that they'd be exiled anyway later. Additionally, the exile was optional for children less than 4 years old. This was later expanded to 16 years of age. Archbishop Ribera strongly opposed this part of the measure; he lobbied that at the very least the children should be separated from their parents, enslaved, and Christianized "for the good of their souls."[18]

On September 30, the first of the exiles were taken to the ports, where, as a last insult, they were forced to pay their own fare for the trip.[18] The Moriscos were transported to North Africa, where at times they were attacked as invaders by the people of the recipient countries. Other times, small revolts broke out on the ships, causing some of the exiles to be slain in battle with the crew. This caused fears in the Morisco population remaining in Valencia, and on October 20 there was a rebellion against the expulsion. The rebels numbered 6,000 and held the remote valley of Ayora and Muela de Cortes. Five days later, a new rebellion broke out on the southern coast, with 15,000 rebels holding the Valley of Lugar.[19]

The rebels were defeated by November. In only three months, 116,000 Moriscos had been transported to North Africa from Valencia. The start of 1610 saw the expulsion of the Moriscos of Aragon (the specific area of Aragon, not all the lands of the old Crown of Aragon). 41,952 were sent to North Africa via Alfaques, and 13,470 were sent over the Pyrenees Mountains to France.[19] The exasperated French sent most of them to the port of Agde, and those who took the land route were charged both the transit fee and the sea fare.[19] In September, the Moriscos of Catalonia were exiled. Andalusia exiled some 32,000 Moriscos as well.[19]

The expulsion of the Moriscos of Castile, Extremadura and Andalusia (then all part of the Crown of Castile) was the most difficult task, since they were dispersed across the land after being broken in 1571 by the rebellion rather than being concentrated in any one place. Because of this, the Moriscos were given a first option of voluntary departure, where they could take their most valuable possessions and anything else that might sell. Thus, in Castile the expulsion lasted three years, from 1611 to 1614.


It is very difficult to gauge the success of the expulsion in purging Spain of its Morisco population, a topic which has been recently subject to a rather intense academic reassessment. Even estimates on the number of Moriscos present in Spain prior to expulsion vary, ranging from numbers based on records of expulsion orders such as those of Lynch and Lapeyre (around 300,000) to more recent estimates of up to one million.

Equally, traditional Spanish historiography and early studies which drew heavily from it paint a picture of a very well run affair which succeeded in channeling the vast majority of Moriscos (around 270,000) out of the country in a short period of time. As a result, early estimates of Moriscos who succeeded in remaining in the country after the expulsion were judged to be as low as 15,000.

However, a number of recent investigative studies have been challenging the traditional discourse on the supposed success of the expulsion in purging Spain of its Morisco population. Indeed, a number of modern studies have concluded that expulsion met widely differing levels of success, particularly between the two major Spanish crowns of Castile and Aragon.

One of the earliest anglophone re-examinations of Morisco expulsion was carried out by Trevor J. Dadson in 2007. Dadson estimates that as much as 40% of Moriscos (around 200,000) never left the country and up to an additional 70,000 of those expelled, managed to return. A significant section of his work is devoted to the example of Villarubia de los Ojos in southern Castille. The Morisco population of this town was the target of three expulsions which they managed to avoid or from which they succeeded in returning from to their town of origin, being protected and hidden by their non-Morisco neighbours. Dadson provides numerous examples, of similar incidents throughout Spain whereby Moriscos were protected and supported by non-Moriscos and returned en masse from North Africa, Portugal or France to their towns of origin.

A similar study on the expulsion in Andalusia concluded it was an inefficient operation which was significantly reduced in its severity by resistance to the measure among local authorities and populations. It further highlights the constant flow of returnees from North Africa, creating a dilemma for the local inquisition who did not know how to deal with those who had been given no choice but to convert to Islam during their stay in Muslim lands as a result of the Royal Decree. Upon the coronation of Felipe IV, the new king gave the order to desist from attempting to impose measures on returnees and in September 1628 the Council of the Supreme Inquisition ordered inquisitors in Seville not to prosecute expelled Moriscos "unless they cause significant commotion."

An investigation published in 2012 sheds light on the thousands of Moriscos who remained in the province of Granada alone, surviving both the initial expulsion to other parts of Spain in 1571 and the final expulsion of 1604. These Moriscos managed to evade in various ways the royal decrees, hiding their true origin thereafter. More surprisingly, by the 17th and 18th centuries much of this group accumulated great wealth by controlling the silk trade and also holding about a hundred public offices. Most of these lineages were nevertheless completely assimilated over generations despite their endogamic practices. A compact core of active crypto-Muslims was prosecuted by the Inquisition in 1727, receiving comparatively light sentences. These convicts kept alive their identity until the late 18th century.


Morisco - Wikipedia

New World Encyclopedia

Moriscos and Jewish Converts: Religion as Cultural Identity Mercedes

The Moriscos of Spain; Their Conversion and Expulsion -
Henry Charles Lea - 1901 - History - 318 pages  Google Books

The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain ... - Mary Elizabeth Perry - 2005 - 204 pages  Google Books

García-Arenal. Professor and researcher, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid

Chejne, Anwar G. Islam and the West: The Moriscos, a Cultural and Social History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983. ISBN 0873956036.

Ehlers, Benjamin. Between Christians and Moriscos: Juan De Ribera and Religious Reform in Valencia, 1568-1614. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. ISBN 9780801883224.

Harvey, L. P. Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN 9780226319636.

The Hand of Fatima, Ildefonso Falcones, Transworld Publishers, 2010



Moriscos (Spanish "Little Moors") or Mouriscos (Portuguese) were Spanish Muslims who converted to Catholicism during the Reconquista and later the sarcastic term for those thought to have outwardly converted while secretly practising Islam.   It also followed Taqiyya, Arabic for caution, whose adherents concealed their religion when under threat, persecution, or compulsion. This was a legal dispensation for a believing individual to deny their faith or commit otherwise illegal or blasphemous acts while under those risks.

1492 saw the capture of Granada, the last Muslim territory in Spain, so achieving the objective of Spain becoming a Catholic only country. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were granted generous surrender terms as Spain did not want the bloodbath of a frontal assault on a fortified city. Muslims remaining in Spain were given religious freedom and exempted from all taxes for a number of years.  

In 1499, the Spanish Archbishop (later Cardinal) Cisneros led the ruthless policy of forced conversions and burning Arabic manuscripts. This led to an open revolt which was quickly suppressed. The Spanish then considered the treaty of capitulation voided, and suspended freedom of religion. Muslims who stayed were baptised Christians so Spain became a Christian only country. These New Christians were called Moriscos (Moorish ones).  In practice they were secret Muslims (equivalent to the Jewish Marranos).  The Spaniards saw their role of ensuring they were genuine Christians.

In 1565, Phillip II added restrictions when Moriscos were found to be organising a revolt. In 1566 there was a major rebellion which was put down and led to their dispersal in Spain. This potential fifth column of secret Muslims terrified the Spanish.  From 1609 to 1614, almost the whole Morisco population was deported to North Africa and France. They then almost vanished from history on being reunited with others having a similar background. Of the estimated 325,000 Moriscos, only 10,000 remained.

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